Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums
Museum Next is relatively new on the museum conference scene, originating from the same folk that bring us Culture Geek, and with conferences taking place twice a year in Europe and in the States. It aims to take an international approach to showcasing museum practice and, through debate and discussion, to explore what the museum of tomorrow might look like. Most recently the host city was Dublin, welcoming a very international mix of delegates and a wide range of speakers from both within and outside the museums sector. Although I was only able to stay for one day of presentations, I still came away with some great ideas. Here’s a few things that stood out for me:
Marleen Harjes from Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, on their ‘Special Guests’ programme, seamlessly overcoming many barriers to museum engagement, including the elegant robot enabling a housebound lady to enjoy a personal tour of the museum
Dea Birkett, the tireless champion of Kids in Museums: ‘we don’t call anyone ‘hard to reach’ – its museums that are hard to reach’
Susan Evans McClure from the Smithsonian Food History Programme questioned our our assumptions about the mythical ‘millenials’ as a homogenous group who just want to drink and party. It turns out they are just like real people – and want social learning experiences as much as any other museum visitor.
Alexandre Fernandes and Luiz Alberto Oliveira of Rio’s Museum of Tomorrow showed us how this stunning new ‘museum of applied science, a collection of possibility’ has developed a huge loyal following from people that live in the neighbourhood, with more than 40% not considering themselves to be regular museum visitors.
Finally, the inspiring Monica O. Montgomery showed us how social media can change and challenge our assumptions about diversity and race in museums. Check out, for example, her twitter feed and the Museum of Impact blog
Of course this was also a fine opportunity to explore the rich and varied museum offerings of the city, from the gloriously eclectic but sadly neglected Natural History Museum, to the astonishing treasury of the Archaeology Museum, made even more enjoyable by the purchase of a new addition to my steadily growing museum teatowel collection. Comically frustrated by only being able to download the interpretation app in Irish at the National Gallery of Ireland, I did however enjoy the uncanny similarity of the building to the National Museum of Scotland, both the product of architects Benson & Forsyth. Dublin Science Gallery is a University-led space where research scientists and artists come together to create an exciting and quirky programme of exhibitions exploring current research issues (genomic gastronomy, anyone?) with a brilliant Make Shop round the corner where my daughter whiled away the afternoon soldering electronic gadgetry. The Chester Beatty Library ‘s amazing collection of books and manuscripts is beautifully displayed, but far too much to take in in such a short visit.
The museum that made the greatest impression on me, however, was the modestly named Little Museum of Dublin, a glorious cacophony of a collection, everything donated by the people of Dublin, beautifully and thoughtfully arranged in a restored townhouse. Here is a museum which allows you to explore in your own way many hundreds of intertwining stories of life in Dublin – and if that’s not enough, there’s fresh flowers, armchairs and a bowl of licorice allsorts to make you feel at home.
Liz Hide, University of Cambridge Museums Officer